Best of 2009: After the Ferris Wheel

"No, Mommy, I want to go on the Ferris Wheel by myself," he says.
"But you can't. You're too small."
I point to the sign:
Archer blinks at the letters on the wooden clown's polka-dotted sleeve.
"Fine," he says, taking my hand reluctantly. "You can come, too."

I climb the creaky steel ladder, hold onto the railing as he pulls me fearlessly, over cords and cracks in the platform, past the Ferris Wheel operator's chubby hands caked with dirt, reaching to block Archer so he doesn't cross the line of twisted duct tape faded red.

"Wait, son. Not yet. You have to stand behind the line."

"Listen to the Ferris Wheel boss," I say.

Archer kicks the line with his new shoe. Elbows the sides of the railing, pulls at me with sweaty hands.

"I don't like waiting," he whispers.

"Most people don't," I whisper back.

The Ferris Wheel turns above us, a clock with numbered baskets one through twelve. It ticks and tocks and creaks and shakes and children laugh and couples snuggle and a man in a faded baseball cap sits alone.

This is what life looks like, I think, watching behind sunglasses as faces twist and smile and frown and squint against the sun. This is what living feels like, I think as I watch children extend their hands, comb freedom with their fingers, high-five the sky. There are those who cling to safety bars, turn their faces from the view on high.

I used to relate most to the children but recently things have changed.

It can be scary to look down when you understand what it means to fall.

But Archer doesn't. He just wants to ride.

His eyes widen as the Ferris Wheel slows and then stops.

Two children step out of their car and run down the ramp into their parent's arms. They're big enough to ride alone. And more than likely, this time next year Archer will be too.

I squeeze his hand.

"Don't!" he says.

"What? I can't hold your hand?"

I reach for it again.

"Stop it!"

"Okay, sorry. Fine."


We climb into our car and the attendant pulls the safety bar over our laps. Archer tries to pull it off, grimaces.

"No way. You can only ride if you wear a seat belt to keep you safe. So you don't fall out. See?"

I point to the big block letters on the side of the car:
"This right here is the most important rule of all."

Archer can't read but he trusts that I am telling the truth. He traces his fingers over the letters until our box lurches forward, drifts backwards and raises slowly up, up, up and into the sky.

"Here we go!"

"Look at all the buildings, Mommy! Look at all the cars."

We put our hands in the sky and go around and around and around, like time.

My stomach churns in a way that reminds me I am adult. Even with my hands in the air. Even though I still say "whee!" as we go over the falls and down. Meanwhile Archer squints and shouts and throws his arms up, kicks his feet so that our car sways and tips and I hold on to him not because I'm afraid he's going to fall but because I need reinforcement.

Because he makes me feel safe.

The Ferris Wheel slows and then stops. Our turn to disembark so we do. And before I realize what has happened, he is gone. One hundred feet in front of me at least. He's running away.

"Wait! Stop!"

But he doesn't hear me. I panic. How could he possibly know how to find his way back all by himself? There's no way.

Recently I asked Archer if I could read him Runaway Bunny.

"NO! I don't like that book," he said. "The mommy is so mean."

"What! No! The mommy isn't mean. She wants her baby to feel safe - to know that she is there for him. She wants to protect him, make him the happiest little bunny in the garden!"

But Archer shook his head, pointed to the baby bunny with sails for ears, the mother bunny blowing wind.

"See? She's chasing him. She's trying to trap him," he said.

I think of this conversation suddenly as I'm darting after Archer, calling his name.

"Slow down! Wait for me! You need to hold my hand in crowds! STOP, ARCHER! STOP! You have to wait..."

But he knows where he's going. He darts through the the crowd like a cat, his green shirt flashing behind booths sponsored by Yogurt and stands selling Nescafe Frappes, past the Greek dancers, up the concrete steps and into the arms of his father.

"... for me."

I'm out of breath when I arrive, my head cloudy with a chance of epiphanies.

"See, mommy?" Archer says. "I can do it by myself now."